1. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Horror How do you make a horror story less scary?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by deadrats, Sep 12, 2020.

    I'm working on a new story. I pulled an all nighter and made a big dent in this project. However, it's a pretty messed up story, both disturbing and leaning toward being a horror story. I don't want it to be a horror story. I want it to be more mainstream than that. How do I keep the disturbing but lose some of the scary?

    Some of the torture and killing techniques used even bother me for just coming up with them. I've refrained from going into the gore, but I feel like the way I've written it with the omitted details might actually be taking the story farther down the horror trail.

    How do you keep your story disturbing without crossing over to the horror genre? I write literary fiction and even when I write genre it's more of borrowing genre elements for what is still literary fiction for the most part. This time it's different. My story is too scary, and that's not what I want. How do I tone down the intensity? And how do you make a scary story less scary?
     
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  2. Cephus

    Cephus Contributor Contributor

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    That's kind of defeating the purpose. If you don't want it to be a horror story, don't make it a horror story. You are in complete control over your output.
     
  3. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    What's the point of making one less scary?
     
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  4. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, I know I am in control, but the writing is just coming off scarier than I want it to and I'm not really sure how to go about changing that. I want to write this story, but I don't want it to be a horror story. And I do think there is some way to do that, but my attempts don't seem to be toning down the horror. I was just looking for some tips that might help me out.
     
  5. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I thought I explained that, no? I'm not trying to write horror, but I am writing a disturbing story. I'm trying to avoid falling into the horror genre with this one.
     
  6. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    If the disturbing bits are not the focus and happen infrequently, then you should be good.
    Granted I've read a few Modern Horror shorts that are floating about, and they are trying
    to be disturbing by doing over top mutilation gore fests, which are quite cringe worthy
    when you can tell they are just trying to damned hard to be something scary, and kinda
    parody back around on the concept of Horror.
     
  7. Kyle Phoenix

    Kyle Phoenix Active Member

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    I'm not sure how you do that, but here is a few suggestions:

    Make the death quick. If it's a slow and painful death, it will affect the reader more. So making it quick gives them less time to react.

    Make it predictable. If it's random and unpredictable, then your going to feel like you've been denied control so that makes it scarier. Being "in control" generally makes it less scary (although giving the villain "control" of the scene to do as he or she wishes will amplify it). It's the unknown and the uncontrollable that is generally scary.

    If it were film, introducing entirely new, random elements that throw the reader off guard would amplify the tension and fear. If you are scared already, the feeling of confusion is going to add to it.

    Alternatively, make what ever is happening invisible. Say, the death/torture happens "somewhere" else and a character then stumbles on the dead body. You get one initial shock, but that's it. If the pain-torture lasts then you will get the sustained, unnerving grotesqueness that makes it more like "horror". Shifting it from the present tense- from something the reader is effectively seeing and hearing and having described to them in vivid detail- to past tense, with a character trying to figure out what has happened, will also change how the reader reacts. Watching someone be killed and finding a dead body are very different.

    It's possible that you can get the reader to feel the person deserves to die. This is not 100% guaranteed to make it less scary, but it may trivialise it somewhat. It becomes more matter of fact. Killing or torturing an "innocent" (especially a child) will produce a much more visceral reaction in a reader, because it deeply offends our sense of the world being fair and just. If the reader hates the character who is getting hurt because they are a really nasty piece of work, the reader will probably be cheering on the "good guy" who is taking revenge on them or acting in self-defence. Someone who hurts another because they are sadistic and it gives them pleasure, or someone who kills and tortures someone purely as a means to another end, has a much more sinister tone. the very absence of justification is actually more terrifying.

    Word use may be a factor too. If I said someone is being "hurt" by someone else, or being "ripped apart, flesh torn, bones crushed, bathed in their own blood, etc" the latter is more likely to be horror. The more detailed and vivid the description, the more likely it is to unsettle people.

    I hope your story it works out for you. Horror is probably an acquired taste after all. :)
     
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  8. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    I would let the story be what it needs to be instead of trying to avoid it. It being scary in places doesn't necessarily make it a Horror. So no, I don't really get it because making something 'disturbing' wont necessarily qualify it for Horror but if that's what it does becomes surely that's ok. What genre are you aiming for I'm guessing thriller, which often does have elements of Horror, but it takes more than "a bit scary" to make something a Horror story.

    (had to come back and finish this reply. sorry, but someone called me)
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2020
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  9. Rosacrvx

    Rosacrvx Contributor Contributor

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    How do you make a horror story less scary?

    I know this is not what you asked, but why on earth would you want to do that? ;)

    There are ways to tell horror without showing it. Tell it through a survivor and way, way in the past. Don't show it. Or show it less.
    I would have to read your story for more specific advice. You may have to change the structure of the story or/and the main character to get away with it without showing.
     
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  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    It's the whole idea, the whole concept of the story that's disturbing. I mean it's pretty f--- up. I'm not attempting to play anything up for shock value, but I want to write this story. I can't seem to stop writing it. It's longer than I thought it would be at this point. I'm not sure what I'll do with it or if I'll even want anyone to read it, but I am going to finish this one and really get it in good shape. I'm just not sure there's anyway to really make it more mainstream like I would like. But I think it's a good story. My lover said I was crying in my sleep last night. I must have been dreaming about this story. No one has ever told me I've cried in my sleep.
     
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  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I like your advice about some of the things being predictable. I'm not trying to catch anyone off guard with this story. Also, the story does raise questions about who the good guys and bad guys are. It has bad good guys and good bad guys if that makes any sense. Thanks for your reply.
     
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  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think that's exactly what I'm asking. My main reason for this is that I've finally built a pretty good resume with literary fiction. I'm not sure I have much use for a horror story. The point I was trying to make when I started this story is something I want to write about. I guess I'm not really sure how to make that point without putting it in a horror story.

    I'm writing in past tense and first person who is more of a bystander than actual participant in any of the gruesome acts. Still, my POV character has to know what's going on for the reader to know. I think my POV choice is helping. But why did I even think up such a messed up situation. I feel like I must be a sociopath just for having this idea to begin with. And I keep making it worse (better for the story) by really humanizing all my characters.
     
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  13. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Senior Member

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    I hate to break it to you but if you want your story to be disturbing it's going to be scary. While it's possible to have scary without disturbing, I don't think the other way works.

    I know I have issues where my stories go darker than I want them to be. I mostly want to write lighthearted YA Fantasy so I can just cut the offensive content, since it's never really necessary. Just a side-effect of my love of A Song of Ice and Fire that keeps bleeding in.

    However if you want to keep the content for the most part there really isn't a way to prevent it from leaning into horror. Attempting to fade away before it gets bad will help, but readers tend to have good imaginations. Which can result it in actually being scarier than it would be if shown for at least a subgroup of your audience.
     
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  14. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

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    I really don't understand this question or what you're looking for advice wise. You either put it in or you don't. If you don't want it in, don't put it in.

    And just because something has gruesome violence doesn't make it horror. violence and gruesomeness does not = scary. It might be disgusting, but not scary. Scares come from fear and fright, not gore.
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2020
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  15. marshipan

    marshipan Contributor Contributor

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    Sometimes horror is just disturbing so I'm not sure you're going to accomplish making a really disturbing story without people considering it horror.

    Might be worth searching around though. Look through literary fiction stories to find something disturbing. See how they've done it if you find one.
     
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  16. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber marshmallow Contributor

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    Sounds like you've got a horror story honestly.
     
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  17. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 HP: 10/190 Status: Confused Contributor

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    Without knowing the plot, it's hard to suggest anything.

    I would say, isolate the horrific bits and lessen their impact, but that potentially also lessens the impact of the disturbing bits, which may not be what you want. You can also change the emphasis, but that has exactly the same effect.
     

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